Donald Trump on Jan. 13 became the first president in American history to be impeached twice. But being impeached is not the same as being convicted and kicked out of office or barred from ever holding it again.
The House sent the sole article of impeachment it passed on Jan. 13 to the Senate on Jan. 25. That triggered the second part of the process: A Senate trial.
But the trial won’t begin until Feb. 9, after Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) came to an agreement Friday to delay proceedings by two weeks.
Here’s how we got here, what’s happening and what could happen next.
Why was Trump impeached again?
Impeaching Trump in his final days in office was not on Congress’s to-do list; then Jan. 6 happened. The attempt by Trump supporters to stop Congress from counting the electoral college votes that would make Joe Biden president ultimately failed. But Democrats, and even some Republicans, accused the Trump of inciting the attempted insurrection, and on Jan. 13, he was impeached by the House on a single charge to that effect.
The article the House sent over is short but makes three main points, mainly that Trump committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” because:
1. He falsely claimed he won the election: “Shortly before the Joint Session commenced, President Trump addressed a crowd of his political supporters nearby. There, he reiterated false claims that ‘we won this election, and we won it by a landslide.’ ”
2. He encouraged the riot: “He willfully made statements that encouraged — and foreseeably resulted in — imminent lawless action at the Capitol. Incited by President Trump, a mob unlawfully breached the Capitol, injured law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress and the Vice President, interfered with the Joint Session’s solemn constitutional duty to certify the election results, and engaged in violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts.”
3. He’d been putting actions to his words to try to overturn his loss: The article mentions a recent call Trump held with Georgia’s secretary of state urging him to “find” just enough votes to overturn Biden’s win there.
The Constitution says the president can be impeached in the House, tried by the Senate, then removed from office (or in this case barred from ever holding federal office again) if convicted of “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
House Democrats uniformly felt Trump’s words before the attack on the Capitol constituted high crimes or misdemeanors — all 222 of them voted in favor of impeachment. And in a notable change from Trump’s first impeachment, ten House Republicans voted to impeach, led by Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the No. 3 House Republican.
“The president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” Cheney said in a statement, adding, “There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”
Trump is already out of office. What are the consequences of holding a trial now?
Trump will go down in history as being the first U.S. president to be impeached twice. But because his term ended on Jan. 20, when President Biden was sworn in, it’s too late to remove him from office.
He can, however, be barred from ever running for federal office again — if the Senate convicts him of inciting the Capitol insurrection, Senators could then hold a second vote barring his future candidacy.
What happens next?
Senate leaders made an agreement on Friday to delay the trial by two weeks, until Feb. 9. That serves both former president Trump and President Biden: Trump and his lawyers need time to mount a defense, and Biden has a full slate of Cabinet nominees he hopes to have confirmed by the Senate quickly. Biden also wants to pass a $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill before the nation refocuses on Trump.
While some Democrats have expressed hope the Senate could split its time between an impeachment trial and Biden’s legislative agenda, Republicans were quick to say that wouldn’t work.
Once the trial begins, “the opportunity for President Biden to get a Cabinet in place is done until impeachment is done,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, said.
The Senate will meet six days a week for the duration of the trial. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the most senior Senate Democrat, will preside over the trial, and nine House Democrats appointed by Pelosi, known as “impeachment managers," will make the case Trump should be convicted.
Trump’s first trial began on Jan. 16, 2020 and he was acquitted three weeks later on Feb. 5, 2020. It’s unclear how long Trump’s second trial will last, especially if Democrats are able to call witnesses this time.
Will there actually be enough votes in the Senate to convict Trump?
Convicting Trump requires support of two-thirds of the Senate, more than the Democratic majority. 17 Senate Republicans would have to vote to convict.
On Tuesday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) forced a procedural vote on whether it was even constitutional to hold this trial of a former president was constitutional. All but five of the Senate’s 50 Republicans voted to say it wasn’t, a number that seems to indicate there’s little chance of Trump ultimately being convicted.
“I think there will be enough support on it to show there’s no chance they can impeach the president,” Paul told reporters before the vote. “If 34 people support my resolution that this is an unconstitutional proceeding, it shows they don’t have the votes and we’re basically wasting our time.”
The Post’s Ashlyn Still and JM Rieger have a running tracker of where both Democrats and Republicans stand. So far, about a dozen Republican senators have expressed openness to the impeachment trial, though which way they will vote remains uncertain.
McConnell had previously blamed Trump for the events of Jan. 6, without explicitly saying how he’d vote in a trial.
“The mob was fed lies,” McConnell said in the Senate’s first session back after certifying Biden’s win. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like. But we pressed on, we stood together and said an angry mob would not get veto power over the rule of law in our nation.”
A conviction is necessary to hold the second, arguably more consequential vote to bar Trump from ever holding federal office again. That action only takes a majority vote.
What questions do you have about impeachment?
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